Matt Tarraccio of Booz Allen talks about CDAO, Trends in Business Development, Workforce Retention

Tarraccio died He embarked on a long and unexpected journey to reach his current position as Senior Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton. For two decades, Tarascio worked at Sikorsky And the Lockheed Martin, convinced that the future of his career lay in designing advanced aircraft. The CEO was an important part of the team responsible for designing the world’s fastest helicopter (which is now on display at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum). When the vice president asked to take the reins of the team overseeing health management, forecasts, and analytics, he hesitated to give up his dream of designing airplanes.

However, Tarraccio soon became fascinated with data, analytics, and AI and was named Lockheed’s first Chief Data and Analytics Officer, eventually moving on to developing AI technologies for the US Department of Defense at Booz Allen.

In this Executive Spotlight interview, Tarascio engages in conversation addressing trends in business development, the qualities that help the company retain talent, and the necessity to form the Office of the President of Digital and AI.

How have recent partnerships been able to help your company expand its position in the federal market, drive innovation and new capabilities, and ultimately help complete your company’s mission?

What immediately comes to mind is an investment fund that we recently created, led by Brian McCarthy. We are looking for companies that have amazing technology that can help us provide solutions to our customers’ toughest problems faster. Latent AI is an example of a company where we have invested time and energy to integrate their technology into our solutions.

One of the big challenges I’ve found when partnering with small businesses is that it’s easy to create buzz by doing a public advertisement, but you have to be willing to put the time and energy into working with them in order to extract value from a partnership. It sounds easy but I’d like to integrate these capabilities and technology and not only mentor them, but also kind of let go of the ego of, “Hey, I’m a big company and we have all the answers,” which we don’t. And also be willing to understand, here’s where they can fill a gap or a need for the customer, and we can integrate that into our solution and jointly deliver that by providing a joint solution.

The customer doesn’t care what name is written on it. If you succeed and solve a problem, it doesn’t really matter. So we have to provide that seamless ability and reduce friction in working with small businesses. And it’s really easy to say and really hard to do. I’m very fortunate to have a team that works tirelessly with small businesses to understand what they have and then integrate it into the larger solution we’re trying to offer the customer. I think this is the way forward. I think a lot of the mistakes big companies make is they, you know, go to the start, announce, “Hey, we just invested in or are involved with this company,” and then 12 months later, no one from the company has really talked to them. Which creates frustration with the small company and you don’t really get any value out of it.

I’m a big believer in less is more — pick a few small businesses that you’re willing to invest time and energy in, and then you’ll get better results instead of trying to make a big, “Hey, we just invested in 30 small businesses.” Well, that’s cool, But it’s not really the money that’s so useful as the ability to get past Death Valley.

How does your company ensure the long-term success of your workforce to increase value for your employees while still facing the daunting challenge of recruiting and retaining the best talent in the federal marketplace?

This is a question that I am sure everyone will face. Especially in the field of artificial intelligence and analytics, which a lot has been written about. We are all competing for the same smaller pool of talent. But there are a few things that I think Booz Allen does very well and are attractive to talent.

I think the attractive thing about working on solutions with a DOD client in particular (the part of the company that I represent) is that you can have a huge impact. You look at what is happening in the world, the solutions you provide are very important to our future. The security of our nation from the internet to the internet inspired by artificial intelligence to human action can be greatly affected.

So, I think one of the biggest selling points for companies like Booz Allen and defense companies is that you can actually have a huge impact on the future. And if you have children, you can be part of securing their future and making the world a safer place. This is something that has always resonated with me – the mission.

The other thing we do very well is training. Share internships with video and build our own curriculum so that people can develop their skills in the company. I think this is an essential part of retaining talent and providing opportunities for growth.

I also think culture is very important. I just went to an event last night for CARE [the organization that gives support to help fight world hunger]. When the company you work for is committed to supporting organizations like that, it definitely makes you feel better to be a part of that company. Plus, when an employer is going for diversity, it makes you feel good about the company.

We often discuss innovation in technical terms or in terms of capability. What are some unique challenges that you have seen on the business side of innovation that have not been adequately addressed or discussed?

Ironically, one thing that many companies are good at is innovation on the technological side. Business innovation to me comes down to delivering value to your customers in unique ways. You need some people with a background in business development who can think outside the box the same way you need people with a technical background who can think outside the box to really innovate. I haven’t seen this skill set much, I’ll be honest. We are always looking for that; The ability to deliver through different types of mechanisms is a challenge.

Take software, for example. People immediately jump to “let’s license the software”. You really have to understand what your customer wants or needs – how do their budgets work? When do they get financing? Licensing based on seats or something like that may simply not work in the long run for the customer. And so, you have to be flexible in how you approach that and very flexible in how you deliver that value. I think that’s where we can work closely with our customers, really understand what they can do, are willing to do, want to do, and then come up with unique approaches for how to do that. I don’t think the answer is simply to license all the time.

From what I’ve heard, customers are tired of this approach. It’s great from a business perspective — it’s a very reliable return that’s been going on. But customers don’t like paying for something forever. It’s like running Windows. If you have to license it and pay for it every month, you’re probably looking for something different, right? So I think that’s part of the challenge. It can be difficult to understand how to deliver digital innovation, via new digital tools and algorithms, in a unique way. Because traditional BD is about systems, platforms, and solutions. Understanding how to deliver value from the digital side, from my point of view, is a huge challenge for the entire industry.

Given your deep involvement in bringing AI technology to DoD clients, what is your response to the relatively recent creation of the President’s Office of Digital and Artificial Intelligence? How has this affected your work or the way you work?

It was a very important and crucial step to unite these groups together under the CDAO umbrella. When General Shanahan started JAIC from Project Maven, it made sense. He was off the curve and tried to do as much as possible. But the formation of CDAO is what is needed now. To really be able to tackle high-volume command-and-control problems across all of the common areas, you have to have an organization in front of that. I saw a great article a week or so ago – I forget who it was exactly – but it came out and said, “Hey, I don’t think we’ve defined the JADC2 problem very well yet.”

I think it’s because it’s very difficult to define this challenge. But that’s what CDAO puts out in front of it. So, I’m really confident that we’re going to work very closely with them along with many other companies and that they’re going to be successful. It’s always a challenge when you’re a central organization that has a lot of different needs and the needs of internal customers, from different groups. But you really need that central organization to hold it together and especially for shared stuff like JADC2, I think it’s absolutely necessary. The leader they found is great, and I think he’s the right person at the right time. I think he will do a great job. I’m excited.

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